Friday, 3 June 2011

What Do Chicken Breasts and EBooks Have in Common?

So there I was at the supermarket examining the different packages of chicken breasts. There were value ones, and organic ones, freedom ones and free range ones, Red Devon ones and cornfed ones, and multipacks and skinless and oh, so many to choose from. Suddenly I realised that here was the answer to publishing and, in particular, ebooks and pricing.

When you're feeling well off, you go for the free range ones. When poor, the cheapest multipack. When you're going to impress a date it's got to be the speciality, named variety chickens that have been living exclusively on gold leaf, judging by the price. Sometimes you're not feeling so rich, but you're choosing quality over quantity. Sometimes there simply isn't a choice and you go with whatever is left on the shelves. Whatever, there is a choice of essentially the same product - chicken breasts - at a range of prices and quality.

I've heard a lot of people say that publishers "should get their act together" with ebook pricing - basically meaning, all ebooks should be cheap. But I think we've just got to think of it like chicken breasts. The newest/latest/most beautifully produced books are going to carry a premium just as the free range, organic speciality chicken breasts do. Want good editing or extra features? You pay extra for that. Not bothered? Then go for the value range.

I think ebook prices will continue to be variable. Some ebooks will be expensive. Some will be cheap. As consumers we'll choose what we value enough to pay for. Like buying chicken breasts, money will be one aspect, but not the only one.


Pauline Barclay said...

A great way of putting it, thank you. You get what you pay for, normally, in the end!

Jim Murdoch said...

My wife introduced me to a phrase, it was one I’d heard before but never really given much thought to: What the market will bear. Customer expectation is a factor that has to be considered. What a thing is worth is not always the issue, rather what potential purchasers think it is worth is. If they discovered a unpublished novel by Beckett and decided for whatever reason to release it only as an e-book what would I be willing to pay? To be honest, pretty much whatever they asked within reason. In reality I would buy a print copy. The bottom line is that I don’t value my e-books like I frankly treasure my paperbacks.

I told you about a couple of e-books I was thinking about buying – still haven’t though – and I was wondering how much I might be willing to pay. What I decided upon was the price of a used paperback. So probably about £2.99. What I think we need to appreciate is how much an e-book costs in real terms. There will be a lot of people out there who assume it costs nothing since it’s intangible but that doesn’t mean flogging a book for 99¢ is fair on the author. In some cases it will be. I’m going to be releasing my first two novels as e-books soon and I intend to price Living with the Truth at 99¢, Stranger than Fiction at $1.99 and an omnibus edition containing both books at $2.98 but when the next novel is released it’ll go straight in at $2.99 with perhaps a discount for people who visit my site. I think that is a reasonable price for the intellectual property alone without a cut having to go to a dozen other people.

Now, if I was being published by Penguin, would $2.99 be a fair price assuming they were paying people to promote the book etc? Unlikely. No one expects to buy a book with the Penguin logo on it and it be a bad book. Okay, they may not like it but that’s always a risk, but it won’t be a bad book; it will have been edited and proofread with professionally-written blurb and quotes from famous people and it will have (hopefully) iconic cover art and all of that costs money. You get what you pay for. If I buy an e-book for 99¢ I might be lucky – I’ve had a few bargains from pound stores over the years – but I will be genuinely surprised if it’s the kind of book I want to blog about.

Sarah Duncan said...

it's one of the mistakes people make, assuming that ebooks are somehow free to produce because there isn't any paper or ink to cost in. Quite apart from fair pay to the author, most of the time there are also editors, typesetters, proof readers etc to pay - or there should be!